SAN DIEGO – An 18-year-old San Diego State University student died from a meningococcal infection, officials confirmed Thursday.
Sara Stelzer, a freshman from Moorepark in Ventura County, was admitted to the hospital Tuesday with flu-like symptoms, the county Health and Human Services Agency and SDSU health officials announced Thursday.
Friends posted messages about her passing and sent their condolences to Stelzer’s family on social media.
The HHSA said it and SDSU officials are working to notify anyone who may have been exposed to the meningococcal bacteria. The student lived on campus but was not employed.
Dr. Gregg Lichtenstein, director of SDSU Student Health Services and director of clinical services, said about 300 to 400 students are being notified, including all members of the Kappa Delta sorority and attendees of certain fraternity parties on Oct. 8 and 9.
“This bacteria, it’s not easily transmitted, particularly through the air,” Lichtenstein said. “This is what we call a droplet infection, so that means people have to have close contact with respiratory secretions.”
Campuswide emails have been sent to let students know about the situation, what symptoms to watch for and where to get help, if necessary, he said.
“While meningococcal disease can be serious and deadly, it is not spread through casual contact. Therefore, the risk to those who were not in close, direct contact is minimal,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer. “Meningococcal disease is spread through close contact with the infected individual. We are working to notify all who may have been exposed to the disease.”
The HHSA said the woman may have exposed others through close contact from Oct. 5-14.
SDSU Student Health Services is extending hours today until 6 p.m. to provide antibiotics to individuals who may have been exposed. Students with questions may contact them at 619-594-4325 and press 2 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, visit their website, or contact their personal healthcare provider.
“The health and safety of our students is our highest priority and we are working closely with health officials to identify those who may have been exposed,” said Eric Rivera, SDSU vice president student affairs.
The bacteria can be spread through close contact, such as sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, cigarettes or pipes, or water bottles; kissing; and living in close quarters, according to the HHSA. The time between exposure to the disease and the onset of symptoms can be between two and 10 days.
County health officials said individuals who had close contact with the infected person should take antibiotics. Preventive antibiotics are not recommended for individuals who were not in close contact with the infected person and does not have symptoms.
Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include fever, intense headache, lethargy, a stiff neck and/or a rash that does not blanch under pressure. Anyone with potential exposure who develops any of these symptoms should immediately contact a healthcare provider or emergency room for an evaluation for possible meningococcal disease, health officials said.
According to Lichtenstein, people with such symptoms should immediately go to a hospital emergency room for treatment, not Student Health Services or a personal physician.
The HHSA said six cases of meningococcal disease have been reported in San Diego County this year, including a Patrick Henry High School student who died in February. On average, 10 cases have been reported annually over the past five years in the region.
A vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of meningococcal disease and is routinely recommended for children and adolescents 11 to 18 years of age, including a booster for those entering college if they received their last dose prior to age 15, the HHSA said.